Tens of thousands of overseas offenders could have travelled home without their country of citizenship being alerted to a serious offence
The Home Office and the ACRO Criminal Records Office are still working to find a fix for a software problem that, over a period of years, saw the convictions of 75,000 EU nationals fail to be reported to their home countries.
The problem became public knowledge last month when the Guardian reported on the content of the minutes of ACRO meetings that, for a time, were publicly available on the organisation’s website. The meetings in question took place in May and June of 2019.
The minutes, which have since been removed from public view, revealed that a technical fault had resulted in UK authorities failing to alert the home countries of 75,000 EU nationals convicted of crimes in the UK. This means that those criminals could have travelled home without local authorities being aware of a conviction for a serious, violent, or sexual crime.
The minutes also showed that, even once the problem had been uncovered, there was a “nervousness” on the part of the Home Office about sending out alerts that, in some cases, dated back as far as 2012.
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“There is still uncertainty whether historical [files] received from the Home Office are going to be sent out to countries, as there is a reputational risk to the UK,” the minutes reportedly said.
The files in question are daily activity files that should have been sent to the criminal records organisation from the Police National Computer – a centralised system housed within the College of Policing that supports law-enforcement IT services and data-sharing across the UK.
Although the problem with sending these files was uncovered at least eight months ago, as of the beginning of this week, the government and ACRO are seemingly yet to identify and implement a solution.
“The Home Office is working to support ACRO to resolve the issue and find a technical fix which will be implemented as soon as possible,” said policing minister Kit Malthouse, in a brief statement issued in answer to several written parliamentary questions on the matter.
ACRO is a national police unit that was set up in 2006 with a remit to “deliver operational benefits to law enforcement and public protection teams, help bring offenders to justice and meet the legitimate information access and management needs of the public”.
It is hosted by the Hampshire Constabulary, and the force provides a superintendent-level officer to serve as head of the organisation.
In addition to its national responsibilities, ACRO manages the UK Central Authority for the Exchange of Criminal Records – the body which is responsible for sharing and receiving conviction information with EU member states.
According to its website, “this responsibility is designated by the Home Secretary to the chief constable of our host force, who delegates it to ACRO”.